The man said yes.
Upon hearing the news former defensive coordinator Mike Elko was on his way to Texas A&M for the same position, the initial reaction for many, myself included, was Notre Dame let him get away. The implication was Notre Dame wasn’t willing to pony up the money to retain their hire from a season before.
But, as more details emerged, that showed not to have been the case.
Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune reported last Thursday Mike Elko had agreed to a new deal with Notre Dame that would pay him about 1.5 million per season. That would put him as the third highest paid assistant coach in the nation, behind only Dave Aranda at LSU, and Brent Venables at Clemson. It’s hard to say Notre Dame wasn’t willing to pay what’s necessary when they were willing to go top 3 for a first year head coach who achieved very good results in his first season, but also didn’t light the world on fire. His unit also faltered some in the final month of the season, but it just wasn’t as glaring as the struggles on offense.
The defense fell from 337 yards per game and 4.7 yards per play to 401 yards per game and 5.4 yards per play. They also saw significant drops during the final five games in points per contest (15 to 25), sacks(19 to 5), and turnovers gained (18 to 2).
Notre Dame was substantially better in a lot of ways throughout the season that don’t show up on stat sheets, improved tackling and being assignment sound for example, so I don’t want to make it seem as though it was smoke and mirrors in the first two months. But, it’s fair to point out the defense, like the offense, saw a drop in play while the team overall struggled.
This all matters in the context of Notre Dame deciding whether or not it was worth it to renegotiate the contract for a third time and make Elko the second highest paid coordinator in all of college football. Especially when Elko had already said yes to a new deal.
Elko Agreed To A New Deal
The most significant detail in the Hansen story is Elko had verbally agreed to a new contract with Notre Dame, for an aforementioned 1.5 million per season. Business is business and I think most people can understand that. Nothing is done till something is signed, something we see in recruiting all of the time, so Elko is free to do whatever he thinks is best for him and his career.
But, it’s certainly understandable why Notre Dame would balk to renegotiate again when A.) they’ve already given Elko a raise to make him college football’s third highest coordinator and B.) he’s already said yes to that deal. This isn’t a situation where Notre Dame made a bid and A&M made a bid, and Elko chose the higher bid. Elko agreed to the terms Notre Dame made. Then he went back to Texas A&M. That is something that would give anyone pause, business decision or not.
Where does this end? If Notre Dame matches, does A&M make it 2 million? 2.3 million? How invested is Elko in coaching at Notre Dame if he is just going to the highest bidder?
Another thing to consider is whether Notre Dame is going through the same thing next year, not just for other coordinator positions, but a head coaching position. Also, this would be a heck of a precedent to set for another high level coordinator who comes along, whenever that might be and whoever the head coach is. At some point it’s necessary for Notre Dame to say “we offered a deal and a raise, and you said yes, you don’t get to come back and ask for more after you’ve made an agreement.”
Elko Isn’t The Only Coach On The Block
Elko was a good hire, no question, and no one wanted him to leave. There was panic and stress for good reason. But, it’s important to remember he’s not the only one who knows how to coach defense, and it’s time for Kelly to make another good hire, because this is a part of his job description. When you hire good coaches, they leave, for a variety of reasons.
Kelly probably didn’t imagine he’d be looking so soon, but that’s the way it goes. It’s incumbent on him to find the right coach for the situation and move the team forward.
But, as for this situation and the way Elko was handled. It’s hard to find fault with how Notre Dame handled it. After all, the man said yes.